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Getting Found in Local Search

You probably have a website for your business and know that having a website and getting it found by your prospective customers are two completely different things. As you know, there are many visible and invisible components of your site that must work together in order present your business as the solution a visitor to your site needs. Promoting your brand, whether locally or globally requires you to present yourself to two very different sets of visitors; one is human and the other (search engines) is not.

Lots of time and careful planning goes into creating a site that represents you well and is easily navigated by your human visitors. Choosing just the right colors, enough white space in your text to make it easy to read, pictures and graphics that convey emotions and connect your message with your human audience are all discussed at length. Search engines, on the other hand, don’t care about ANY of these things. You can easily think of them as a different life form that you really want to be comfortable your website Components of SEO(bear with me here) so, it must be designed for them as well.

Presenting your information the way THEY want to see it is as important as the effort you put into designing for your human visitors. Many books have been written on the different elements needed to accomplish this but here we’re going to look at optimizing your site for local search. First, a little definition on several terms.

SEO

(Wiki definition) “Search engine optimization


“As an internet marketing strategy, SEO considers how search engines work, what people search for, the actual search terms or keywords typed into search engines and which search engines are preferred by their targeted audience. Optimizing a website may involve editing its content, HTML, and associated coding to both increase its relevance to specific keywords and to remove barriers to the indexing activities of search engines. Promoting a site to increase the number of back-links or inbound links, is another SEO tactic.”
n is the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “natural,” or un-paid (“organic” or “algorithmic”), search results. In general, the earlier (or higher ranked on the search results page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine’s users. SEO may target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, video search, academic search, news search and industry-specific vertical search engines.”

An interesting tidbit of information is that the first documented use of the term “Search Engine Optimization” was in 1997 by Mr. John Audette in a piece published by his company Multimedia Marketing Group. John and his company are headquartered in and operate from the beautiful town of Bend, Oregon, considered by many to be the birthplace of SEO. Perhaps this means nothing to you but, I live in Bend and think this is rather cool.

Paid or Unpaid Search Results?

Most people are aware that there are paid and organic methods of SEO. We’re going to focus on organic search, for several reasons the most desirable of the two. Referrals, reviews directory listings or citations are all efficient ways to promote establishment of a strong organic search presence. You must be clearly identified, listed in many places (directories, blogs, media forms) and people should be talking about you in order for this to be the most effective.

  • Organic search engine optimization consists of two primary elements, both of which should be designed with your human and non-human visitors in mind.
  • Onsite factors: which consists of controllable things such as your domain name, site structure, meta tags and the content and its use of keywords for your business.
  • Off-site factors: things like link building, social media shares, citations and traditional PR

Both groups are important and must all be operating effectively in order for the system to function efficiently and produce the desired results. For now we’re going to focus on the off-line factors that deal with promoting your website in local search results.

Local Search

Lady with shopping bagsFirst of all, what percentage of your customers are local? How important to your business do you think it is for you to be prominently displayed in local search? A 2010 study by BIA Kelsey found that “97% of internet users now use online media to find local products or services”. Search engines are the leading source for finding information about local businesses on-line (Pew Internet) , second only to word of mouth (American Express) and that local search results are the most relevant and trustworthy of all search results (comScore). Another clue is that Google gives priority to local results for any search you submit through them. It’s important for your business to be accurately represented.

Wiki defines Local Search as “the use of specialized Internet search engines that allow users to submit geographically constrained searches against a structured database of local business listings.”

Traditionally this need has been filled by The Yellow Pages but as we all know, times are changing. Although not quite dead many of their customers have left. Where did they go? Correct! On-line. The need for local businesses to be found by and connected with their local customer base is still a very real need but it’s shifted from the yellow pages to on-line search.

Search engines like local search because it is verifiable (from their perspective) through multiple sources and, since a large percentage of searches are seeking a specific something and in their locality, local results usually contain what the search customer is looking for. It’s easy to conclude then that local SEO is an essential internet marketing activity for all business that depend on a local client base to drive their sales. If you only have the resources to focus on one internet marketing activity, you should focus on local SEO.

There are two basic components to local SEO:

  • Make it clear to the search engines that you are a place. Help them to categorize you as a specific type of place within a specific industry.
  • Develop authority by accumulating reviews and citations that validate your existence and describe your business.

In addition to helping them find you, these two components work together to provide your traffic with the information they need and in a manner that establishes a high enough level of trust to convert them from a visitor into a loyal customer.

The first component is solved by completing your Google Places profile.

Consider this, as of the first quarter of 2012 less than 13% of small businesses have claimed their FREE Google places or Google+ Local page. This valuable tool provides the information search engines need in order to catalog your business correctly and works so well with the second component, your reviews and citations, that’s it’s becoming increasingly difficult to separate the two. This can require some thought in order to set it up well but, the more complete your profile and more carefully you craft your text in it, the better you will rank

One key is to add information and extras often ignored by your competition:

  • Business Hours
  • Photos (Up to 10 photos)
  • Videos (Up to 5 YouTube videos)
  • Coupons
  • Customer Reviews
  • Specialties or certifications
  • Forms of payment accepted
  • Website link
  • Industry specific information

Another key is to be certain that your business information is standardized across the Internet.

Information about your business is constantly being collected off the internet by HUGE data compiling systems. They compare occurrences of this information, trying to determine the most accurate version of your companies profile. Having outdated address and phone information (after you outgrew the old office and moved to the new digs uptown) on different online directories causes confusion and though it sometimes gets washed out of the system in favor of the newer information about your company, it can also lessen the validity of your profile, reducing your ranking in search results. Keeping this information current can become a HUGE task without the aid of systems and services to assist with the process. Here’s more information on services like this.

Google and Bing are sticklers for details

They both like to see complete and consistent information about your business as it crawls the web. Making certain your information (business name, phone number, address, etc.) is prominent and consistent across the Internet not only lets the SE that you exist, but that you care enough about your customers not to confuse them with conflicting or outdated information. This alone moves you far ahead of a similar business that has inconsistent information available on the web. Because of this, different physical stores that your business operates should each be optimized for their individual locations. Their own map page, address, phone number and hours of operation, even their own website, subdomain or page on a corporate site will aid in local search.

What does all of this this look like and how does it work? Well, let’say I need a hotel room in Portland next week. If I type “Portland Hotel” into my Google search bar I get a hopeless 7.5 MILLION results that include Portland Oregon, Portland Maine and six other towns I didn’t even know existed. I can add another qualifier, “Downtown” for example, or better yet, add the 97204 zip code of the meeting I’m attending. This delivers a list of Portland Oregon hotels in the same geographic area as my meeting, giving me much more usable results. Here is an example:

Portland area hotels

Pre-website conversion is a growing trend among search engine “Place” pages.

The engines are beginning to provide so much information about your business on your place page, visitors may begin their purchase decision before they ever get to your website. Notice that the hotel example above gives me that exact opportunity in a drop down menu of options. If searchers are able to book right from their search engine, the content on your place page becomes synonymous with your digital brand. The general wisdom is that beyond standardizing your name, address and phone number across the Internet, the next best thing you can do is attract more citations and reviews. (Reviews have the added benefit of often being considered citations as well. More on this in a moment.)

So, You Want More Reviews?

Okay, lets talk about reviews for a moment. Working under the assumption that you’re going to play by the rules to build your reviews (that means not paying people to write fake reviews, not reviewing yourself or having your wife, children and dog write reviews for you), where do you start? You could:

  • Remind people on their receipts or in other documents you give them to review
  • Post positive reviews (and sources) in your waiting room to signal desired behavior
  • Create an e-mail campaign that goes out to your loyal clients asking them to review you online

But first: Stop for a moment.

Before seeking reviews, PLEASE audit your business and website honestly. Invite a friend or mentor to do the same and be

Ready For the Cold, Hard Truth

Before you undertake any sort of review campaign, recognize that while Google may not weight your visibility by the actual content of reviews, negative reviews undermine your marketing efforts (and yes, their content can come up in search results). Negative reviews brought on by deficiencies in your product or by a negative customer experience will seriously impact the ROI of your marketing efforts wasting your time, money, reputation and hard work. Your goal in this area is to promote viral activity and create ambassadors for your brand as opposed to “satisfied” customers who will not create a following for you and will drop you like a hot rock the moment your competition announces a 2% off sale. (Read “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard).

This happens by providing outstanding value and a remarkable customer experience, foundational elements that should be honed prior to spending your marketing budget to get more traffic. Hear me on this please, if your website is feeble, your customer experience is “Average” or your products fall apart when used, the answer to improving your bottom line does not begin with increasing the traffic to your website. I respectfully ask that you address these issues first (we’d be happy to assist) or if you’re motivated for change, address them simultaneously with implementing a Local Search campaign.. Then you can spend your marketing budget with us and write rave reviews about how our incredible expertise has positively impacted your bottom line!

Search advertising and optimization is a critical tool for establishing an effective local web presence and is a powerful marketing tool but doing search well doesn’t hide existing flaws in a business or its customer service. Do the fundamentals correctly first and local SEO will be far easier and much more effective for you.

Local Citations

Local Citations are mentions of your business on websites and include directories, blogs, public meeting minutes, press releases and the like. Together they paint a picture of your business and provide at minimum your business name, phone number and address. There are literally tens of thousands of these opportunities, some general, some local and some industry specific with new ones being created every day.

Like many organic SEO components doing this well is not a speedy process. Many directories (including Google) only update their directories once a month so good not to expect overnight results. Data Compilers compare and swap huge amounts of data with each other, including the information about your business listing. Conflicting information is sometimes dropped from their files so verifying your listings is a good practice. Including Geo location directories like Garmin, OnStar and MyTouch is a good ideas as well as they’re becoming increasingly important to your customers and are often overlooked for use in local SEO.

So, an outrageously long post, I know. I hope you were able to pull something of value from it.

We are offering our very effective Local Search service for $129/month, no contract and a recommendation that you continue with this organic process for at least 12 months. If you mention this post we will also set up or update your Google Maps account and sync all of that information with the information in your citations, both new and existing, for no extra charge (a $120 value). Website audits and strategic marketing consulting are both available and recommended in order to get the best possible results and to fire up your business in the coming months.

Being connected with the community you serve is good for your business. We are proud to offer this economical solution to your local search needs.

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